How to overcome your own mind when learning a new skill.
As we see in the X Games each year, extreme sports require extreme movements. Unfortunately, these extreme movements create the potential for extreme injuries, which can spur one of the most derailing and frustrating occurrences an athlete can experience: the dreaded mental block.
Mental blocks are psychological barriers that prevent athletes from performing optimally in sports such as rock climbing, gymnastics, skateboarding, and snowboarding. Fear of injury, embarrassment, upsetting a parent or coach, or seeing someone else stumble can create a brick wall in their minds that make even the easiest movements for them difficult to execute.
When humans sense danger, we get a surge of adrenaline that lowers our physical and mental acuities and the fight/flight/freeze response kicks in. As a result, athletes can be rendered somewhat paralyzed or in panic mode. To overcome mental blocks when trying to execute or grasp a new skill, athletes of all levels should take some time to mentally prepare for their success.
Admitting to a struggle is the first step in getting better at something difficult. Vocalizing a fear and getting advice from other athletes allows for more support in sports.
Visualizing the movements required to land a jump or get to the top of a rock climbing wall can mentally prepare athletes for little victories. Watching videos of athletes executing certain movements can also help an athlete to warm up to the actions required. Even prominent racecar drivers admit to visualizing and mentally preparing themselves for different racetracks to better prepare for competitions.
Don’t push yourself too hard as this can create more fuel to the mental block’s fire. Adding more frustration to the mix will only exacerbate the issue. Instead, go slowly step-by-step until you’re comfortable and feel competent in your abilities.
Getting one-on-one help from a pro allows you to improve your skills minus an audience. Mirroring their movements and taking in their instruction will allow you to focus better and lowers your risk of panic.
Taking slow, deep breaths from the diaphragm when feeling as though you may freeze up re-centers yourself and makes you more situationally aware to your circumstances.
No one is immune from mental blocks, even Olympic gold medalists. What may seem like a large obstacle now will be laughably small once you overcome it. Be patient with yourself and always remember to have fun!